Friday, January 23, 2009

Teddy Roosevelt, South Park Blocks

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A few photos of the Teddy Roosevelt statue in the South Park Blocks between SW Madison & Jefferson, out in front of the Portland Art Museum. Recently I've sort of embarked on a mini-project to cover interesting statues, monuments, and assorted artworks around town. This is partly out of idle curiosity, and partly out of necessity, since I need to find stuff that photographs well in the winter. There's a third reason that will only make sense once I finish a long-pending post about the pioneer family statue in the Plaza Blocks. I was intending to post that first, but it sort of evolved into a rant and I think I need to dial it back a bit before it goes live. In the meantime, I figured I'd post some of the others I had handy.

Theodore Roosevelt statue, South Park Blocks

The Smithsonian's invaluable Art Inventories Catalog has this to say about it:

Inscription: (East side of sculpture:) Alexander Phimster (sic) Proctor Sc./(copyright symbol) 1922 (West side of base:) Gift to the city of Portland by Dr. Henry Waldo Coe. (North end of base:) THEODORE ROOSEVELT/ROUGH RIDER (Inscribed plaque follows) signed

Description: Figure of Theodore Roosevelt mounted on a horse. He is wearing a cavalry uniform with wide brimmed hat and eyeglasses. There is a sword on his proper left side and a pistol in holster at his proper right hip

Remarks: The sculpture was a gift to Portland from Dr. Henry Waldo Coe (1857-1927), philanthropist, owner of a mental hospital, and friend, admirer, and political cohort of Theordore Roosevelt. The monument cost $40,000. The groundbreaking ceremony was performed by Vice-President Calvin coolidge on August 15, 1922. The sculpture was the subject of a film, "The Making of a Bronze Statue," created by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to document the process of creating a bronze monument. IAS files contain a copy of the dedication program and text of the plaque on the base, as well as articles from the Oregon Journal (Portland, OR), Nov. 11, 1922, pg. 1, 3, and The Sunday Oregonian (Portland, OR), Nov. 12, 1922, pg. 1, 12, 13, which discusses the dedication; the Oregon Journal, Oct. 29, 1964, which discusses rededication by the Daughters of the American Revolution; Encore Magazine of the Arts (Portland, OR edition) 3 (Summer 1979); The Oregonian (Portland, OR), Sept. 27, 1983, pg. B4, which discusses A. J. Buttrey, who modeled for Roosevelt's legs; and The Oregonian (Portland, OR), April 8, 1993, pg. D1, which includes a photo and caption about a cleaning of the sculpture. IAS files also contain excerpts from Alexander Phimister Proctor's autobiography, "Alexander Phimister Proctor: Sculptor in Buckskin," Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971, pg. 182-183; and Eugene E. Snyder's "Portland Potpourri: Art, Fountains & Old Friends," Portland OR: Binford & Mort Publishing, 1991, pg. 98-103.

Theodore Roosevelt statue, South Park Blocks

Maybe it's just the wintry gloom or something, but the more I look at these photos, the more Teddy & horse seem to have an oddly sinister aspect about them. I can't put my finger on it, exactly, but it alarms me. If you didn't know who he was, or what country the statue was in, you might reasonably take him as a minor generalissimo from somewhere in Latin America, remembered primarily for his cruelty and avarice, when he's remembered at all. Which is not, or mostly not, what the real TR was all about. It's just the impression the statue gives off, I guess.

Theodore Roosevelt statue, South Park Blocks

Theodore Roosevelt statue, South Park Blocks

Although now that I think about it, I don't think I have a very good handle on who he actually was, as opposed to all the mythmaking that's been done around him over the years. Consider the fawning inscription on the base of the statue. Apparently this is a famous quote, or saying, or something, about TR, although the inscriptions seems to be a slightly condensed and reworded version of the original, which reads thusly:

"He was found faithful over a few things and he was made ruler over many; he cut his own trail clean and straight and millions followed him toward the light. He was frail; he made himself a tower of strength. He was timid; he made himself a lion of courage. He was a dreamer; he became one of the great doers of all time. Men put their trust in him; found a champion in him; kings stood in awe of him, but children made him their playmate. He broke a nation's slumber with his cry, and it rose up. He touched the eyes of blind men with a flame that gave them vision. Souls became swords through him; swords became servants of God. He was loyal to his country and he exacted loyalty; he loved many lands, but he loved his own best. He was terrible in battle, but tender to the weak; joyous and tireless, being free from self-pity; clean with a cleanness that cleansed the air like a gale. His courtesy knew no wealth, no class; his friendship, no creed or color or race. His courage stood every onslaught of savage beast and ruthless man, of loneliness, of victory, of defeat. His mind was eager, his heart was true, his body and spirit, defiant of obstacles, ready to meet what might come. He fought injustice and tyranny; bore sorrow gallantly; loved all nature, bleak spaces and hardy companions, hazardous adventure and the zest of battle. Wherever he went he carried his own pack; and in the uttermost parts of the earth he kept his conscience for his guide."

It probably doesn't help that the statue (like many local statues of that era) was donated to our fair city by Henry Waldo Coe, and he and TR just happened to be great friends, dating back to the old days in North Dakota. Even if you're the world's greatest TR fan, you still have to admit this is a distressingly cozy arrangement. And something I could easily see happening again here in Portland, I think that's the worst part.

Theodore Roosevelt statue, South Park Blocks

I'd never heard of the sculptor, Alexander Phimister Proctor, before, but there's a lot of stuff on the net about him. Apparently he was quite a big deal back in his day. Seems there's even a A. Phimister Proctor Museum, up around Seattle somewhere. I think the key thing to know about Mr. Proctor is that he was known for specializing in animals. Which I guess is what you want if you've decided you need an equestrian statue.

Oh, and once again we learn that an iconic local statue is not unique after all. It seems that, besides "our" TR, there are two smaller copies of this statue, both located in North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt statue, South Park Blocks

More about the TR statue, from across the intertubes:
1922 NYT article on the making of the statue. Aren't the interwebs grand?
Cafe Unknown: "The Roosevelt Mysteries"

Theodore Roosevelt statue, South Park Blocks Theodore Roosevelt statue, South Park Blocks


Unknown said...


If you read the book Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life you will discover that there is some truth in each assertion on the statue's dedication. He was an amazing leap forward for the country in terms of social conscience and regulation of greed.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The statue in Mandan, North Dakota is a smaller version of the Portland statue, but the one in Minot, North Dakota is the same size.